Literature lovers flock to library opening

One for the books

Friday was no quiet day at the library.

Hundreds of people filed in after the 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony to get a peek at the three-story structure that towers over its predecessor across the street.

More activities, including a keynote presentation by author Dorothea Benton Frank and a social event, followed Friday evening.

"We have been in need of a new library for years," said Ingrid Tutt, who recalled going to the old building for debutante meetings.

"It was old then," she said, "and that was in the '80s."

The new library holds a lot of new books -- 22,000 were added to the ones moved from the previous location -- and includes many new features such as a self-checkout center, several study rooms and meeting areas, a puppetry theater and a Georgia Genealogy Room.

"This is a prime example of what can happen when people come together in Augusta," Mayor Deke Copenhaver said.

Nancy Carver, a nine-year library employee, said she couldn't get over the extra space.

"The first time I stepped in, there were no walls," she said. "I looked at Greene Street and thought, 'You can play football in here.' "

They weren't playing ball on Friday, but children did enjoy balloons and dancing while adults began stacking up books to check out. There was also a line of future patrons filling out requests for new library cards.

Director Gary Swint said it's been a long road since the first discussions of a new library, about 15 years ago.

"I've been looking forward to this day for a long time," he said.

It was a day unique for libraries, which have seen funding dry up in recent years. According to a study released last year by the American Library Association, a majority of public libraries have seen funding reductions during the current economic downtown.

Augusta's new $24 million library was built with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenues, $2 million from the state and additional funding from the library foundation board's capital campaign to raise $3 million.

Though he enjoyed the Friday opening, Swint admitted he would have liked a few more weeks to get everything just right, including the placement of some new furniture.

But Marcus Palmer had no complaints.

He said he found the new library cozy even in the middle of Friday's excitement.

"It has more space where you can sit down and relax and read," he said. "The other one was a little cluttered."

The open design of the building, Swint said, allows for librarians to cover more space more easily and serve the larger area.

Several employees were added, including a new security guard. Security cameras were also installed around the perimeter of the building.

"People have commented, 'You must be worried somebody's going to steal a book,' " Swint said. "I'm worried about that to some extent, but I'm much more worried about the people's safety."

As for the old building, its fate is undetermined. Plans change from "week to week," Swint said. Ideas range from moving in city departments to selling it, but ultimately it's the city commissioners' decision.

Augusta's new library offers a lot
If you go

The library at 823 Telfair St. will resume normal business hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; and 2-5:30 p.m. Sunday. The genealogy section's hours are not set. For more information, call (706) 821-2600 or go to www.ecgrl.org.

UPCOMING ACTIVITIES

TODAY: 10:30 a.m. to noon and 1-2:30 p.m., storytelling workshop; noon to 1 p.m., petting zoo; 1-2 p.m., clown and magician; 2-4 p.m., African American genealogy; 3-5 p.m., Teen Idol; and 6 p.m., coffee and cake with author Leonard Todd

SUNDAY: 2:30 p.m. storytelling; 2:30-5 p.m., genealogy lock-in; 3-5 p.m., Murder Mystery Teen Scavenger Hunt; and 6 p.m., cake and coffee with author Joe Cumming Jr.

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